Full Circles

Reflections on Living

Month: October 2018

Against Resilience: Numbness is Not Strength

We often mistake the ability to persist and soldier on as a sign of resilience, an evidence of strength.  

The issue is that we overvalue hardiness, and fail to appreciate our fragility. Resilience connotes the notion of overcoming obstacles and setbacks, and the ability to soldier on. There isn’t anything wrong with that. In fact, we need to be able to go through hardships and difficulties and come out the other side with valuable life lessons—sometimes with scares to prove.

However, sometimes we need to embrace the fact that we don’t have to “bounce back.” Instead, we have to first listen to the inner workings of our body, sometimes we simply need to take the time to recharge, to re-organise ourselves, or even call it quits on certain jobs or relationships. No need for “bouncing” or moving on. Just sitting still. 

Resilience is obsessed with forward movement, as if life is a straight line. As you probably experienced it first hand, life is anything but a linear process. When we continue to persist in our belief that life is a straight line, we push ourselves ahead.

In order to “move on”, we numb ourselves. We mistake numbness as a strength.

Indeed,  numbness happens when the waves of emotions overwhelm. But if we numb-out because we want to be a trooper, we fail to recognise the our mind is there to take care of the body… not “mind over body.” As Tim Minchin said in his commencement speech, we need to learn to feel it, not fill it.

If we learn to feel it, not fill it, then there is strength in vulnerability. 

Older vs. Elder: Who We Can Become

Everyone becomes older. Not everyone becomes an elder.[1]

We get older by the passage of time. We do not necessarily become an elder. We get to become an elder by joining the realm of conversation, which entails deep listening and wonder.

If you are someone in the first half of life, we must invite people who are older than us into a space of being treated like an elder. This is not about naive reverence, but this type of mentoring relationship requires an earnest perspective that eventually, we will also become older one day.

If you are someone in the second half of life, make room to enter into conversation, not preach, and to listen to someone into speech. Question in order to listen, not listen in order to question.

To be the best teacher, we need to become great students.

The ultimate touchstone of our lives is not self-improvement. Ultimately, any form of self-improvement is for the benefit of others. Otherwise, self-improvement becomes a self-indulgent enterprise, purely for its own sake. The ultimate act is to grow the ability to be a witness (I prefer the word with-ness) to another.

To become an elder, we must be warmly invitational. To help the older person be treated as an elder, we must suspend what we think we know, and appreciate the lived experience of the other through sharing of stories.

Holding our ideas lightly—as if to pray not with clasped hands, but with open arms—invites others into a space that helps others see themselves in a truer light, either as an elder, or a to-be elder.

 

Notes:

[1] I first learned about this distinction from author and mythologist, Michael Meade.

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